Annals of cheap: Fukushima peaches
On Thursday, the government lifted the ban on beef shipments for farmers and ranchers in the Tohoku region. That means cattle can be shipped, but the meat they produce will still have to be inspected for radioactive materials. Ranchers in Fukushima, however, want more. They want the government to buy up the beef that went to market before the ban but was not sold.
Farmers in Fukushima, where the stricken nuclear reactor is located, may attempt similar countermeasures for other produce, which is not selling because the public is afraid it might be contaminated. Of course, the very fact that Fukushima fruits and vegetables are in stores proves that those fruits and vegetables have passed inspection and are thus deemed safe according to government standards, but there’s always fuhyo higai (hearsay damage), which can be as deadly to commerce as any trace of cesium. If sales of certain produce are banned, then the farmers can ask for compensation from the government or Tokyo Electric Power Co., but if consumers just refuse to buy the produce because they’re afraid to eat it, there’s no recourse except to throw the produce away.
As cynical as it may sound, there is a silver lining to this situation, and that’s lower prices. In particular, the prices of peaches from Fukushima are lower than they’ve ever been, and if you’ve ever tasted a peach from the prefecture, you’ll understand what good news that is.
Fukushima is the second biggest peach producer in Japan, after Yamanashi. There are two brands, Miss Peach and Akatsuki, that particularly reign as the international queen and king of peaches in terms of flavor and texture. Japanese peaches are very different from the fibrous/soggy product Americans are used to. They are firm, invariably sweet and quite big. Japanese people usually peel their peaches, but it’s not necessary. The skin is thin and soft and tastes good. Normally, Japanese peaches are also expensive, because their peak season is relatively short and unlike other “deluxe” fruits like melons and strawberries, they grow on trees so it’s difficult to raise them in greenhouses. Peaches grow best in slightly higher altitudes and cooler climates, so Fukushima is perfect. The usual retail price for a peach classified as “large” (300 grams) starts at ¥200. However, in the last week, we’ve seen large peaches at local supermarkets (in this case, northern Chiba) that have been selling for ¥100 each. In one store, we bought a package of six for ¥500. They were excellent.
Since everyone loves peaches, Fukushima farmers are using the fair fruit as the lead product in their Fukushima Shinhatsubai (Fukushima Brand New) campaign to dispel the poisonous hearsay and move some produce. As part of the campaign, junior high school students from the prefecture will spend part of their school trip by giving out hundreds of peaches for free on Aug. 30 in Yokohama. The campaign’s website lists radiation readings on a daily basis for each item that goes to market. They also provide geiger counters at “antenna” stores that exclusively sell Fukushima products in areas outside the prefecture, including Tokyo. Again, the fact that the products are in the store means they’re safe according to the government, so the devices are mainly there for show. Of course, some people don’t trust the government inspection standards, which is understandable. But life is short, and peach season is even shorter.